Roasted Tomato Shrimp-and-Octopus Cocktail

This image courtesy of Professor Paul Elledge

Makes 4½ cups, serving 8 as a starter

NotesWorking Ahead: The sauce can be made, covered and refrigerated for several days before serving. Finish the cocktail within an hour or so of serving.


Total Timeunder 2 hours

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Courseappetizer

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free



  • 1½ pounds octopus, cleaned (I love the small ones-about ½ pound each)
  • 1 small red onion, sliced about ¼ inch thick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt
  • 12 ounces small to medium (40 to 60 pieces) shrimp
  • 1 pound (2 medium-large round or 6 medium plum) ripe tomatoes OR 1½ cups canned tomatoes in juice (preferably fire roasted), drained (you will need about ¾ of a 28-ounce can)
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic or sweet sherry vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • ¼ cup Tamazula hot sauce (or whichever is your favorite Mexican offering)
  • 1 small ripe avocado, pitted, flesh scooped from the skin and cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro (thick bottom stems cut off)
  • 2 to 3 dozen crackers (standard-issue soda crackers or artisanal crackers)


  1. Cook the octopus. If you bought cleaned octopus, the eyes should have been removed; if not. Cut them off. (Not a great way to start a recipe for most Americans, but something you need to know.) Cut open the head cavity and wash it out. Making sure the ink sac has been removed. Check to make sure the beak (the hard mouth area where all the tentacles come together) has been cut out: if not. Use a small knife to cut it away. Cut off the straggly last inch or so of each tentacle.

  2. In a large (4-quart) saucepan, combine the octopus, 1/3 of the onion, the bay and 1 teaspoon salt with 2½ quarts water. Bring slowly to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook until very tender when pierced with a thin-blade knife, about 1¼ hours. (Weight with a heat-proof plate to keep submerged.) Remove the cooked octopus to cool on a plate and raise the heat to high under the pan of cooking liquid.

  3. Cook the shrimp. When the liquid comes to a boil. Add the shrimp, cover and time 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Set the lid askew and pour off all the delicious liquid-but no shrimp-into a heat-proof bowl to save for making seafood soup. Re-cover the pan and let the shrimp steam for 5 minutes, then fill the pan with cold water to stop the cooking. Let stand a minute or so. Drain thoroughly. Peel the shrimp.

  4. Make the sauce. If using fresh tomatoes, roast them on a rimmed baking sheet about 4 inches below a very hot broiler until splotchy black and thoroughly soft, 5 or 6 minutes per side. Remove and cool. While the tomatoes are cooling, reduce the oven temperature to 425 degrees or heat to 425 degrees if using canned tomatoes. Spread the remaining onion and the garlic on a baking sheet and drizzle with the oil. Toss to combine. Roast. Stirring a few times, until richly browned, about 15 minutes.

  5. If you have roasted fresh tomatoes, pull off their blackened skins. Scoop the tomatoes (fresh roasted or canned roasted) into a food processor and pulse several times to chop them into small pieces. Scrape into a large bowl. Without washing the food processor, scoop in the onion and garlic, then pulse until chopped into pieces about 1/8 inch. Scrape in with the tomato and stir in the vinegar, brown sugar and hot sauce. Taste and season highly with salt. Usually about 1½ teaspoons.

  6. Finish the cocktail. If you’re a person who likes shrimp cocktail really cold, refrigerate the sauce until chilled. Add the octopus, shrimp, avocado and cilantro to the sauce and stir to combine. Cóctel de Camarón looks beautiful presented in martini glasses or little glass bowls (especially if they are nestled into a larger bowl filled with crushed ice). Serve with crackers on the side.


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